Monday, 20 June 2011

Rights in town design

A Chinese developer is creating a replica of Hallstadt, an Austrian town that is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for which the word "picturesque" seems to be a colossal understatement, according to Chris MacDonough on the Washington College of Law blog (following a story in the Washington Post). Chris speculates about the position under intellectual property laws, and concludes that there's not much to be done about it. Maybe it's a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

Maybe there's a case for extending protection for geographical indications - not just to cover the situation where a producer pretends that his goods have come from somewhere else, but also where somewhere pretends to be somewhere else. But that wouldn't help - who's going to think they are in Austria when they are clearly in the ersatz Chinese version? There'll be no pretence involved. Trade mark infringement? Only if the Chinese were very unwise in what they call it. Copyright? Well, of course it subsists in works of architecture and in maps and plans - but a work of architecture is defined in terms of single structures, not entire settlements, and maps and plans can be created from measurements (which is what the developer seems to have done here, from the reports). Of course reproducing Hallstadt will necessarily involve copying the designs of individual buildings, but it sounds as if the architects have probably been dead for so long that even a bit of Disney-style lobbynomics isn't likely to help them. They probably did their work before town planning was thought up. So an interesting case study, but one that clearly points up the limitations of intellectual property laws. And it's a good thing too.

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